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H-1B and OPT Considerations for Graduating International Students

For many international students studying in the United States, there are quite a few options to stay in the country after graduation and work to gain experience. International students attending U.S. colleges and universities must have an F-1 visa to attend and can gain practical experience in their degree field after graduation by applying for Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows for an international graduate to live and work in the U.S. for one-year post-graduation. Eventually, this OPT can turn into an employer-sponsored H-1B visa which would allow the applicant to work in the U.S. for up to six years (two three-year periods). To make the process of going from OPT/ STEM OPT to an H-1B visa and even beyond easier and more efficient, we’ve created this helpful guide below of good practices to follow when you have your OPT/STEM OPT.

First off, you should keep great records of everything. This includes copies of all job offer letters, dates of employment, when you leave a job, email correspondence with your employer as to why you left the position, and if it is a volunteer position, make sure the organization gives you a letter confirming what work you are doing, that it is at least 20 hours per week (the minimum required amount for OPTs), that it relates to your degree, and the starting and ending dates (if applicable). You may upload all job offer letters and Form I-983s (required form for STEM OPTs) to your ISSS Portal or SEVP Portal for easy access and storage. All your documents must match with what you have reported in your SEVP Portal or on your I-983, your resume/CV should also reflect accurate and matching information as this could complicate H-1B petitions.

You must also follow the rules set forth by the government. Some of the main rules are as follows:

  • OPT and STEM OPT: your work must relate directly to your degree of study, H-1Bs also require you to have a specific degree required by your position. Should you wish to acquire an H-1B or permanent resident status, USCIS will verify that your degree and employment match up.
  • Your SEVP Portal must always have accurate and up to date information, any changes must be reported within 10 days
  • OPT (first year only): the SEVP Portal must be kept accurately up to date with employer information, again, any changes must be reported within 10 days on the Portal
  • STEM OPT Extensions Only: to add a new employer, you must use ISSS and input an I-983 training plan from the new employer. To end an employer, again, you must go through ISSS and input an I-983 Training Plan’s final evaluation. All employers for these extensions must be E-Verified

There are some additional reporting requirements that are specific only to STEM OPT extensions. These include confirming every 6 months from the start date of your extension that your employer information and your contact information are correct, completing reports and evaluations on time and submitting them to your SEVP Portal, and sending page 5 of your I-983 to your school’s branch of the ISSS. 

Following these practices will make getting an H-1B or any future immigration documents much easier in the long-run. By keeping good records of every employment and immigration document during your time studying and working in the U.S., you are setting yourself up for success for future immigration desires. Be sure to subscribe to Berardi Immigration Law’s social media channels to stay up to date on all the latest immigration related news and guides!